A Primer about Evolving Media Channels October 2010
Media choice continues to expand at the same time that many companies' marketing and media budgets remain flat—at best—and competition increases for consumer dollars. As a result, a majority of companies charge their advertising agencies to spend their ad dollars more prudently than in the past. A number of advertising agencies have added (media) channel planners to their strategic team, among other efforts to meet this directive. Channel planners determine which media should be in a media plan, but they may or may not determine how to allocate a company's advertising budget. Channel planners and media planners rely on media-use research to direct media selection. Data are fairly plentiful, but comparing one medium with another—apples to apples—is frequently impossible. The bottom line, however, is that the best strategic plan, channel plan, comparable data, or presence of a large marketing budget does not guarantee that advertising will work unless the target consumer is front and center throughout the process.
The best strategic plan, channel plan, comparable data, or presence of a large marketing budget does not guarantee that advertising will work unless the target consumer is front and center throughout the process.
In this era of evolving media, a lexicon of choices is helpful. Most people are familiar with traditional media—sometimes, old media or legacy media (pre-Internet)—such as newspapers, magazines, television (including broadcast, local, and cable), radio, direct mail, and outdoor billboards. In contrast to traditional or old or legacy media are new media such as the Internet and mobile and digital media. Some new media, but not all, are interactive media. In place-based media, advertisements are physically where advertisers or channel planners believe target customers congregate. Examples of place-based media include videos in stores, shopping malls, restaurants, bars, and gyms; advertising at sports and events venues; advertising in, on, or around transportation (such as taxis, trains, and buses); and ads at the beginning of a movie. Using place-based media is different from placing products in media. Product placement means that a company pays to place its branded goods or services in a context; placement is most often in a movie or television program. Further, we have mainstream media—those that appeal to large audiences—and alternative media, which appeal to niche audiences. Understanding the media landscape is especially challenging when people use the terms that describe media interchangeably. For example, the term alternative media might describe various forms of place-based media or might describe new media.
Channel-planning challenges increase exponentially as media options proliferate and media-measurement companies create new methods to estimate how many pairs of eyeballs the media reach. Media measurement is not standardized. Some media measures are for individuals; other measures are for households. Measurement of some forms of advertising, such as outdoor billboards, are estimates based on the number of local miles driven by a respondent in a typical week. Estimates of ads that people see at bus stops or train stations are based on survey respondents' recall. For many traditional media with large audiences such as TV and radio, data are available in small increments such as by program, time of day (daypart), or even quarter hours. Newspaper data are available by day and by section. Magazine data are available by the number of issues respondents read in the past month. Because new media and alternative media reach fewer people than traditional media reach, measurement of media use must cover a long enough time to be reliable. In some instances, media measurement covers a 30-day period; highly niche media require a longer measurement period such as six months. Some proprietary studies show the proportion of adults reached yesterday by various media such as a 2010 study from the Television Bureau of Advertising (TvB), the trade association for the over-the-air (local television broadcaster) industry. The TvB study, using Knowledge Networks Inc.'s online panel, shows that television reached 90% of US adults yesterday; newspapers reached 39%, radio 61%, magazines 29%, the Internet 68%, and mobile media14%. Because of TvB's obvious agenda, the data might be useful to shore up TV's declining share of advertising revenue, but the study is not helpful as a channel-planning tool for companies or their ad agencies.
Where is the customer in this fruit salad of media options and media-use measurement?
Recognizing the need to identify a company's target consumer—who may differ by product— and to understand that consumer at a deeper level than the consumer's demographics and some behaviors has prompted a resurging interest in psychographics. At best, psychographics should explain consumers' motivations. At the other end of the spectrum, some segmentations that claim to be psychographic report only a limited number of household behaviors. In addition to the number of syndicated psychographic segmentations, the number of proprietary segmentations—those for individual companies—is growing. In the end, often it doesn't matter how well a company understands the customer, because agencies' media buyers buy the majority of media on the basis of demographics. Broad demographics—such as women, men, or adults between the ages of 18 and 34 or 25 and 54— are typically in use because demographics is the common denominator between behavioral data and the morass of media-measurement data.
In addition to posing very real challenges for marketers working to develop realistic channel plans, the use of demographics is responsible for creating some media myths, such as that newspaper readers are old, upscale individuals don't watch television, and young people use the Internet most frequently. Most myths are grounded in half-truths. Newspaper readership is higher for people age 35 and older than it is for young adults between the ages of 18 and 34, but newspaper readers aren't geriatric. Upscale individuals are more likely to watch TV 10 to 30 hours a week than they are to be heavy TV viewers—viewers who watch television 46 hours or more a week. Upscale consumers, in addition to having the means to purchase goods and services, also tend to participate in numerous activities—activities other than watching TV. The heaviest Internet users—individuals who use the Internet 20 or more times per week—actually fall into two distinctly different consumer groups: one group with a median age of 24, the other group with a median age of 45, according to the latest data available from VALS™/GfK MRI Spring 2010. Although by today's standards age 45 isn't old, people age 45 are certainly older than the Internet myth would suggest.
Beginning in spring 2010, data are available about various forms of alternative, mostly place-based, media. Following are selected media-use data for advertising seen in the past 30 days. The percent of all US adults appears along with the index for three populations: young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 and two VALS consumer groups. An understanding of VALS can explain why various consumer groups notice advertisements in these media and provides direction for crafting communications that will elicit a favorable response. The VALS groups shine a light on potential misconceptions about media-channel effectiveness.
In summary, the real test of an effective channel plan—in additional to deep immersion in media measurement data—is how well the channel planner understands how consumers use and integrate various forms of media, their tolerance for information, and their preferences for how information is served to them The channel planner best achieves this understanding by segmenting consumers in a meaningful way by a method that provides rich consumer insights. Consumer insights should be the thread that grounds marketing-strategy development through the process to channel and media planning.
|Advertising Seen in the Past 30 Days
|All Adults US Adults (Percent)
|Change Leading, Ages 18–24 (Index)
|Adults Median Age 45 Who Are Sophisticated, Take Charge (Index)
|Adults Median Age 24 Who Are Experimental, Enthusiastic, Impulsive (Index)
Note: An index of 121 or higher = above-average behavior. An index between 81 and 120 = average behavior. An index of 80 or below = below-average behavior. Bold numbers indicate where behavior is above average for this group.
Source: VALS™/GfK MRI Spring 2010
|Send to home via mail
|Product placement: TV program
|In stores (not video)
|On an infomercial
|At the movies
|At sports or entertainment events
|On videos in stores
|Sent to cell phone or mobile device
|In shopping malls
|On video in restaurant
|Product placement in a video game
|On video in gym/health club
|On video at airport
|On video in bars/pubs